Book Reviews!

Hey, y'all!

Heather here.

And I am excited to share that I've been shamelessly enjoying my summer break from college by neglecting the real-world. Yep. I've been indulging in my favorite hobby--reading YA fiction--instead of working on house projects, swimming at the pool, and even writing my book.

But that's okay! I've earned it and will get back to revising my novel in due time. But first, books! Books! Books!

YA romance (especially when written by Miranda Kenneally) is kind of my jam right now, and I've finished three books of hers in the last week. Needless to say I haven't been writing (passively brainstorming a chapter rewrite when not reading); I have been laughing, crying, and rooting for girl to work through her issues and hang out with McDreamy, instead.

So without giving away anything huge, I'm going to share some tidbits on the books I've read this week, as well as the one I'm currently working on.

1. Catching Jordan by Miranda Kenneally

Jordan is the quarterback of her high school football team and to say the least, she kicks ass. And I mean everyone's. She's got her head on straight. She's focused on playing college ball for Alabama, and she has no interest in dudes unless she is throwing a pass to score a couple of yards to win the game. But then Tyler Green waltzes into her life, and he's sexy. Real sexy. But he's also a quarterback and she has enough competition securing her position because of her gender, and suddenly, Jordan starts losing focus. And to top it all off, a love triangle begins, and oooh is it good!

The characters in the story are very entertaining, fully fleshed out, and memorable. I am a huge fan of strong female characters who can pull their weight and earn respect from those around her. Jordan is one of them, and her voice will make you laugh, long, and empathize with her struggles, whether you're a fan of football, or not. If you're interested in reading who wins her heart in the end, you can find it here. 

2. Breathe Annie Breathe by Miranda Kenneally

Tears, y'all. Tears!!!

I immediately became connected with this character, as Miranda's word choice made me empathize with her situation right off the bat. Not only did she lose her first love, but the sting of it (almost six months later) is still as fresh as it was the day their relationship ended when the story begins. But it wasn't a breakup that made her life break at the seems. It was death. And now, despite her hatred of running, she is training to take on the marathon her guy never had the chance to finish. OMG. It's amazing!

While the novel starts sad (and I'm normally not a fan of sad stories--happy Disney addict right here!) this one drew me in and kept my interest until the very last page. The story follows her road to recovery in more ways than accepting the loss of her first love. It's about endings and beginnings. Dying embers and sparks of new flames. And there are hot guys, too. Which is always important. :D

If you're looking for a character to root for, and even one that you could read and make sense of your own struggles in life (even if your guy or girl didn't die), then I highly recommend Breathe Annie Breathe. You can find her story here.

3. Stealing Parker by Miranda Kenneally (what??? again? Yes! She's amazing!)

This one had me on edge a few times from the very beginning. Parker (our protagonist) has a mom who walked out on her family in pursuit of her female love interest. To be clear, I want to make sure you know it was not because of the homosexual relationship! It was the fact that Parker's family was very religious and the church acted as a villain in such a difficult time and made it seem one-dimensional.

I read through the pages listening to Parker being continually hurt and gossiped about from those that claimed to love God, and it was hard to swallow (and I'm a Christian!) But I kept reading, hoping Parker would leave that church and find another--one that would love her and her family as many churches in the real-world do. I was also rooting for reconciliation with her mom, despite all of the hurt and abandonment she had put her daughter through (an issue that is close to my heart, as my biological mom left my family when I was a child). And I was really hoping that Parker would find her self-worth in something other than messing around with guys. (It was so sad to read.) Identity is huge. In any society. And this book explored the struggles and triumphs of such a topic.

Well, I can say that I continued to push through--despite the politics and religious issues in the story, and can say that I was very happy with the way things turned out. Parker didn't have it easy, but her character arc was beautiful. I highly recommend it! If you're interested in reading it for yourself, you can find it here.

4. (Currently Reading) Pushing the Limits by Katie McGarry

This one is...beautiful...heart-wrenching...and so difficult to put down!

Goody-two-shoes meets sexy-and mysterious-troublemaker? Um...yesssss!

Sounds a bit cliche though, right? Hasn't this story already been told like a thousand times? No. It hasn't. It definitely hasn't.

Echo (our female protagonist) has been haunted for the last year and a half by a nightmare she can't even remember. All she knows is that her mom tried to kill her and she's got the scars on her arms to prove it. What? :O I know, right?

Then there's Noah (our male protagonist), who is a troubled foster kid with an attitude and a reputation for screwing girls and moving on.

So what do the two of these characters have in common? They've both been through hell and are required to see the school social worker/clinical therapist in order to work out the futures that are coming quicker than the night their lives changed forever.

There are tears, and laughs, and cravings for justice in both of their stories. But what's even more delicious than that? The way their lives intertwine in the midst of it all.

I haven't finished this one yet, but so far (I'm halfway through) it's amazing! I'll update y'all when I'm done. But if you want to check it out before then, you can find it here. 

But I have a date with my book. So if you don't mind, I'm going to get back to it.

What are you reading? And does it sound like any of these stories? If so, please don't keep amazing books to yourself. It's selfish. Very, very selfish. ;)




Lately I have been wondering why I should share my writing with the rest of the world. 

I have tasted the bitterness of rejection from my peers and thought, "Should I open up myself to strangers and show them the deepest, most vulnerable part of who I am?" And, "Why should I reveal the human being beneath this mask?" I have enough heat to deal with from myself about what I don't like about my stories. Why pour gasoline on the fire?

This battle has been raging within me, fighting the urge to slam the door when I've only just cracked it open. To remain in my comfort zone—where it's safe—and I know exactly what to expect from it. 

But I don't want that. I want to share my stories with the world. I believe they have the potential to make readers laugh, cry, root for my protagonists to overcome their flaws and reach their goals, and to want an understanding of who my villains are at their core. 

But in order to do that, I will need to share these stories with agents, editors, and publishers (should they make it that far), and that is absolutely terrifying in my mind!

Don't get me wrong, I know rejection is part of the writing process, a milestone so to speak. I am expecting that, and am even looking forward to it, oddly enough. I am not afraid of getting punched. In fact, the more I get hit in the face, the more focused I become (I train at an MMA gym, so this is not just a metaphor I'm using). What I fear is failure.

I am truly, madly, deeply afraid of failure. Of total knockout. Of getting choked out and not being able to get back up again, metaphorically. And if that failure means putting my writer's soul on the line in the process, well, the thought alone makes me consider tucking tail and running for cover before I ever really make it out of my writer's hole. 

But on the day I seriously considered hiding in order to accommodate my fear, someone—or something—told me not to, everywhere I went. 

First, I was told a story about a lady who stepped out, doing what she believed God told her to do, and was rejected in front of an entire crowd. She went home and cried, believing her introverted self was not meant to stand, but instead, to remain hiding in her comfortable corner. She battled for days with her insecurities, her doubts, her fears of facing rejection. Again. But then she got up and went back for another round. She chose to be brave. She chose to fight for what she believed she was supposed to do. She fought for herself. She fought for the lives she believed she was called to step out and love.

Now she travels around, speaking at conferences and concerts—encouraging others with her story; spreading hope and love and her testimony to whoever may choose to listen. And after sharing her testimony at these events, she says, "If I would have let that rejection keep me from getting back up again to pursue the path I believed I was suppose to take, I never would have made it here today. I wouldn't have become who God made me to be. I wouldn't know what I do now, that God is faithful, and that even when others reject me and the calling He has placed on my life, I know He has a greater plan to get me where I need to go, regardless of whether they believe in me.
Or not."

Encouraging, right?

That same morning someone posted a quote on social media by John F. Kennedy that said, "Those who dare to fail miserably can achieve greatly." The person who posted that quote added their own thoughts which read, "Don't allow fear to control you and keep you from stepping out/trying. You might just be surprised by what you are capable of."

I was like, "Okay, God. I'm listening."

Then, while making coffee, I read the "scripture of the day" I have propped up beside my beloved Keurig.

Stand firm. Fight for what I believe I'm supposed to do. Sound familiar?

Then I read an interview with one of my favorite artists, Tori Kelly, and was encouraged by this:
These were only a few words of encouragement I received on the morning I was considering making a run for it, before I ever really tried to put myself out there. And there have been many more since.

Needless to say, readers, I have been inspired to leave my corner and fight the giant in front of me, again. I have counted the cost of what it will take to reach my dreams and become a published author, even if it takes twelve years and several manuscripts to make it happen (I have not yet queried as my manuscript is about to undergo another round of editing). 

I plan to begin the query process by the end of the year. Still afraid. Still unnerved by the unknown of what the future could bring. But I will walk this road in faith that I heard God tell me to quit my almost-career as a teacher and to stay home and write. 
I may be afraid of the unknown, but I have the courage to step out, remembering that if my God is for me, who can be against me?
And knowing, yet again, that getting knocked down along the way will just mean more lemons—and therefore—more stories to squeeze out of those experiences. 



Three Tips for Surviving Story Critiques

Criticism is hard to swallow. 


No matter how it is worded, us writers want to guard our prose babies and protect them from the harsh words of others. But it is also how our written offspring grow from helpless first drafts into published members of the literary world.

You see, us writers seem to think that our work can be good on its own—and it is possible. But do we want our stories to settle for just being good, or do we want them to be great? I personally, want to give readers the best story I can give them, and I know that will require help along the way. I will need to have my story critiqued in order to learn where it is not working. Unless, of course, I want my readers to fall head-first into the pot holes I left behind while paving my prose into a road my readers could follow. 

But that doesn't mean it is easy to share our most intimate, heart-beating stories with others; especially if we know they will tear it apart so we can learn how to make it better.

In my honest opinion, critique is the most difficult part of the writing process. But if I want to be a brave writer instead of one that screams mediocre, I will need to place my work into the hands of someone else; whether it be a critique partner, an English professor, an editor, or peer workshop. 

So what are some ways we can deal with criticism in order to write a better story? Here are three tips I have learned. 

1. Grow thick skin.
We cannot defend our work! The point of seeking corrective criticism is not so we can be praised for writing such a great story. It is so it could become the story we are trying to write. If we defend our work, we will be selling ourselves short. We will be wasting our time and that of others, and it will not profit anyone. So let's take a deep breath, grow lizard-thick-skin (or maybe dragon scales if we are awesome like that), and hear what our readers are saying about our work.

2. Listen to the majority.
If one reader states an issue, we need to consider what is being said. But if many readers state the same problem, we need to change it, remove it, or figure out a better way to communicate it more clearly. After all, if what we are writing seems clear to us but confusing to readers, our story won't be understood as we are intending it to (and we aren't trying to write a foreign language, right?) But if our prose is being read that way by the majority, the issue is not with their understanding; it is with the way we are communicating.

3. Recognize what is constructive criticism and what is hateful feedback. 

There is a big difference between the two, and in order for critiques to become helpful to us writers we need to understand what each of these are.

Here is what construction criticism looks like:

"This character is flat. Give him a flaw he could work through and overcome." 
"This part of the story does not make sense. Can you please clarify what is happening here?"
"There is a lot of telling in this story. Add more sensory detail to show us what is happening while keeping us in the moment."

Constructive criticism is truth--which we need--but it has the purpose of tearing down and building up behind it. If there are cracks in our foundation, the whole house will come tumbling down at some point, and the last thing we want is for our readers (not our fellow writers, but the public) to notice those cracks. The goal for constructive criticism in writing is to discover what is broken so we could fix it.

But some critiques are not helpful at all. In fact, they aren't even critiques! If there are no suggestions for how to improve a story (or the writing in general), and only negative remarks, they are nothing but hate-mail. Those comments only tear down a story, and leave it roofless and broken with no plans for repair. Here are some examples of hateful feedback:

"You spent so much time writing about things I don't care about." 

(Okay, is it the content you don't like? Could you please specify what you don't care for?)


"This story was stupid." 

(Okay, could you please give me some reasons why, and more importantly, how I can make it better?)

"I hate this character."

(Okay, what about them don't you like? Do you have any suggestions for how I could create a more likable character?) 

As you can see, these statements are not helpful. However, before we set the comments aside, we need to take the time to consider if we are being sensitive and defensive (which could blind us from seeing the truth). Then we should compare those comments with what the majority of readers are saying. Do they agree with those comments? Or not?

If the majority says otherwise, we can discard those comments as hate-mail and address the other critiques for our next draft. 

Now let's recap. What are the three survival tips for story critiques?

1. Grow Thick Skin 
2. Listen to the Majority 
3. Recognize the Difference Between Constructive Criticism and Hateful Feedback

What have been your best and worst experiences with criticism related to writing? What have you taken away from those experiences? Don't be shy. Be brave. Sharing is part of the writing process. ;)